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Vahe Gregorian: Dick Vermeil reflects on role of Carl Peterson, Chiefs in Hall of Fame NFL career

Vahe Gregorian, The Kansas City Star on

Published in Football

Pleased as he is that Andy Reid (with whom Vermeil played matchmaker for the Chiefs) has taken the Chiefs to four straight AFC Championship Games and given the franchise its first four grasps of the trophy in the name of its late founder, he reiterated something he says often:

“I really regret not doing a good enough job to personally hand the Lamar Hunt Trophy to Lamar Hunt,” Vermeil said.

In that respect, anyway, Vermeil isn’t necessarily seen through the same lens here as in Philly, where he remains an absolute icon, or St. Louis, where he’s still revered.

Just the same, he certainly won over Kansas City and views it as an essential part of the journey.

Coming off the Super Bowl win in St. Louis, he said, he was more accessible in many ways. He had better control of his emotions and broader perspective.

He backed off a bit with players, he added, all the more a radical difference from his time in Philly.

And he took time to enjoy the community more than he had allowed himself as an active coach at the other stops. Instead of grinding even in the offseason, he said, he went out and made friends while Carol got deeply involved with Operation Breakthrough.

“It enhanced me as a person,” he said. “I don’t know if I was a better coach.”

Whether he was or not, his five years with the Chiefs further burnished Vermeil’s resume as Hall of Fame-worthy.

And it happened because of Peterson, who was perhaps Vermeil’s most fierce advocate for induction in Canton.

 

Which goes back to Vermeil’s decision to hire him nearly half a century ago, when Vermeil also assigned Peterson an administrative capacity that would ultimately blossom into his greatest professional gift.

Along with many others, Peterson’s work was an element of Vermeil’s second UCLA team beating Ohio State and coach Woody Hayes in the Rose Bowl. Vermeil’s vitality and command presence in that moment captured the imagination of Eagles owner Leonard Tose, who turned to Vermeil when the franchise was in tatters.

(Full disclosure: As a kid growing up in the Philly area, I remember getting autographs at their nearby Widener training camp; I later “worked” for the Eagles as an unpaid intern in their ticket office, where it turns out I was best remembered for being able to zing pencils into the soft drop ceiling and performing head-handstands. I didn’t know Vermeil then but admired him all along and count myself lucky to get to know him a bit in St. Louis and all the more in recent years).

Vermeil brought Peterson with him to the Eagles. Soon, he deployed him in a personnel and administration role that helped the Eagles earn a berth to Super Bowl XV and proved a springboard for Peterson.

He left the Eagles to become part-owner, president and GM of the Philadelphia (then Baltimore) Stars of the fledgling USFL. The Stars won two back-to-back USFL titles, and a few years later the Chiefs turned to Peterson to reset their drooping organization.

And did he ever.

Peterson this year was a semifinalist in the Pro Football Hall of Fame “contributor” category, recognition that makes it all the more curious that the Chiefs have not yet put him in their own Hall of Fame.

Beyond the marketing wizardry that energized Arrowhead Stadium and its tailgating phenomenon and so many other key contributions, Vermeil himself is another highlight of Peterson’s tenure.

So it’s only fitting that they would be joined at the hip again for this moment, one Vermeil knows is all about those who helped enable it. Not to mention a lot of decisions along the way.

©2022 The Kansas City Star. Visit kansascity.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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